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The Policy Made Me Do It

Let’s face it; we all grew up following rules to some extent. This adherence to rules and policy is one of the things that employers like in employees. We all probably look for a place that has SOME rules because there is comfort in those environments. So far this all sounds pretty good but consider what happened to me the other day.

I was hustling to make a connection to a flight. I was scheduled for a later flight but had been rerouted because of an earlier cancellation. It was one of those days. I got to the gate at 8:20 for the 8:25 flight, the exact same time that another guy on the flight got there. He was confirmed on that flight and boarded. I was confirmed on the later flight but I wanted to get on this earlier flight as did another guy who was standing there with that hopeful look on his face.

I showed the lady my boarding card and she told me the flight was closed. But I had just seen a few people board so I know she hadn’t closed it out yet. A few keystrokes on the computer and I am on. However, she told me that policy stated that all passengers needed to be onboard ten minutes prior to flight time and she would be violating policy if she let me, and the hopeful guy, on the plane. She then told me if I didn’t like to call the supervisor who was at the next gate over. I walked over to see him and explained the situation and he told me to go back to my gate and tell the agent to let me on the plane and that he said it was OK.

I went back to my gate told her and she told me no. She was not going to lose her job for me. Then the pilot comes out and asks, “are those two guys coming?” The gate agent says no. He asks if we want to come, we say yes. The pilot asks the gate agent to get us on the flight. No. Now the supervisor is present and he tells her to let us on. No. She tells him to do it himself. He tells us to get on and we do. At this point the plane is maybe five minutes late, not a big deal. That gate agent was using policy as an excuse to not help the customer.

My travel adventures may not be interesting to you but that gate agent hiding behind rules has several lessons for you.

First, if the place you are working is heavy into rules is there any flexibility? You may be too close to answer that but if you have a chance to take a “test drive” of the place I suggest you do it. If yours is a company that works directly with consumers this isn’t hard at all. Just do some business with them and see if you like the experience. This is tougher to do with a firm that is business to business but do what you can to learn how they use policies and how flexible they are. Ask your customers how they feel about your firm. They may say things are OK but that is not good enough.

Second, if the people in the firm seem to hide behind policy you need to ask yourself why? Perhaps more important, you need to ask yourself if any of that is because of you? I admit that the answers to these questions are not always apparent, or welcomed. Places that are ruled by rules are places that send the message to employees that “we really don’t want you to think.” These firms wrongly think if they have rules for everything then everything will be OK. Actually this will stifle initiative and cause people to not let you board the airplane.

Too many rules dumb down the organization and its people. To be competitive today firms need people who are smart and thinking about making the place better. The majority of people will “get smart” or “dumb down” depending on the leadership they receive.

Wally Adamchik is President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. Visit the website at www.beaFireStarter.com. He can be reached at 919-673-9499 or wally@beaFireStarter.com.

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